The Survivor Mentality: Universal Credit & The Inner City

Part 4: Transcendence

Extract: From Under A Cloud On Heartbreak Hill by Gary Knapton

As I begin writing this final chapter, the winter closes in. It is a dark November morning as I type out these words. Three months ago, in the long lazy heat of a summer afternoon, workmen arrived to give me a new front door. They’re doing every flat on the block including the common area inter-connecting doors and as far as I can tell from chatting to the workers, every block in town. It’s the direct political fall-out of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy which will no doubt tag this year as the grim keynote event that defines a troublesome period for the British underclass. Us. Our lot.

The irony is that I have a bathroom suite as old as me which is rotting off the wall and doesn’t work properly – yet I’m now getting a new fire door that I don’t need.

The two lads stripping my door frame and fixing new locks and handles are in their early twenties. The one I make conversation with is called Lonnie and after a few days, he brings manual assistance in the shape of his father – a quiet, hardworking chap who looked a little older than me.

All residents were told to set days aside for these guys to get the job done, but rather than sit around feeling imprisoned, mindful of all the outdoor errands I need to run that I cannot attend to – I decided to sit at my desk and write.

This is how this book started. I don’t have a TV and reading can get pretty tiresome in an on-call atmosphere – occasionally the lads would request my attention to answer questions about the flat – yet I’ve always found writing a different kind of creative entertainment – where interruptions or at least a climate of potential disturbance somehow doesn’t negatively impact on my ability to write nor my enjoyment of writing. Something about the commitment. The action.

I’ve called this chapter “Transcendence” because I want to try and describe how I have overcome the trials and anxieties of living under a cloud on Heartbreak Hill by getting into a frame of mind whereby the bad things do not matter that much. It has long been my firm belief, and happy experience, that if one can genuinely arrive at a place in one’s heart where the difficulties in life are not that much of a concern, then miraculously, life is not that difficult anymore. It’s an old technique borrowed from Stoic wisdom and Zen Buddhism that I like to think feeds fittingly into a rather quaint notion of British resolve – and in any case, it works for me.

From Easterhouse to The Pepys Estate

Each one of my neighbours on the block and all of us that find ourselves deep inside the welfare state – residing in the housing projects far over on the wrong side of the tracks up and down the country – from Glasgow to Newcastle; from Sheffield to London; from Manchester to Nottingham – shunned and lambasted by mainstream society at large – from the upper working classes and middle classes to all arms of the establishment from media to government and it’s police and judicial support services – have found ways to cope and actually enjoy life a little.

We are grateful for the little things and quite accepting of our fate. The secret is to access the power of surrender whilst retaining one’s personal agency. To accept without being defeatist. To strive for change without resisting the present day status quo. Everyone has managed to transcend the horrible plight in one way or another. You find your personal Jesus and you run with it.

This is a laudable mental achievement by me and my kind – by which I mean my socio-economic demographic – and as it never gets mentioned by a distant, other-worldly media that seems too concerned with celebrity high fashion and abstract political concepts that mean nothing to most of us – such as Brexit and cabinet reshuffles – I want to give it fair oxygen here.

What follows is a closer look at a number of the things I do: daily behaviours and techniques that I deploy – to ring-fence the survivor mentality and bring me peace of mind along with a deep sense of authentic inner security in this awesome, beautiful, dangerous urban jungle.

Extract: From Under A Cloud On Heartbreak Hill by Gary Knapton

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